The European Union and Turkey reached a deal to cut the flow of migrants into Europe in exchange for European Union cash and help with its bid to join the 28-nation bloc. EU leaders hailed the agreement as a key step toward substantially reducing the number of asylum seekers entering the bloc, while Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday’s summit marked a historic new beginning in the often fraught relations between Brussels and Ankara.
A key element is 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) in EU aid for the 2.2 million Syrians now in Turkey. The money is intended to raise their living standards and so persuade more of them to stay put rather than attempt perilous crossings to the EU via the Greek islands. The final offer of “an initial” 3 billion euros represents a compromise between the EU, which offered that sum over two years, and Turkey, which wanted it every year. Now the money, as French President Francois Hollande said, will be paid out bit by bit as conditions are met, leaving the total payout unclear.
Under the deal, Turkish citizens may be able to travel without visas in Europe’s Schengen zone, which allows free movement between many European countries, by October 2016. Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu, standing in for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will also be offered the opening in December of a new chapter in Turkey’s stalled accession talks for the 28-nation bloc, the draft said. But concerns over human rights and Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict, including the shooting down of a Russian warplane in the last week, have made EU nations wary of offering Turkey too many concessions without safeguards. Turkey is the main gateway for migrants and refugees to reach Europe, and Germany has pushed for the summit as it is the main destination for most of the people arriving in the bloc.
Under the agreement expected at the summit, Turkey will take steps including cracking down on people smugglers and cooperating with the EU on the return of people who do not qualify as refugees. The case for cooperation with Turkey comes against a backdrop of growing security concerns over the migrant crisis, especially after the November 13 attacks in Paris, claimed by the Islamic State group (IS), which left 130 people dead. Relations between Europe and Turkey remain tense over Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic rule, rights abuses and Turkey’s alleged backing for Islamist rebels in Syria.
Summit chairman Donald Tusk stressed that the meeting was primarily about migration rather than improving Turkish ties, which have been strained in recent years as Erdogan has used a powerful electoral mandate to consolidate his power. Critics say he has abused the rights of opponents, media and minority Kurds. The Europeans, none more so than German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are under pressure to manage the biggest influx of people since World War Two, the bulk of them to Germany. The crisis has helped populist opponents and set nations against each other, straining the open internal borders of the EU. German media reports had spoken earlier of up to 400,000 Syrians being resettled.